A Significant Gap
John Ciocca’s fintech story begins with a labor of brotherly love.
When Ciocca’s family moved from New Jersey to Florida, his brother Christian, who has Down syndrome, struggled to stay in touch with his friends. So Ciocca applied his tech expertise to create a social network for people with disabilities and their families, dubbed youBelong.
As Ciocca built up this online community, he noticed that its users were exchanging tips and tricks for navigating life with a disability. “One topic that came up super frequently was managing finances, opening bank accounts and generally applying for disability,” he says.
That inspired Ciocca to launch Purple, a neobank built specifically for people with disabilities and their caregivers, a group with unique financial challenges that traditional financial institutions often overlook. For example, individuals receiving disability income cannot legally accumulate assets exceeding $2,000, except in a specially designated investment account. That puts many deposit products with high minimum balances out of reach. Ciocca’s own family dealt with this exact issue when a big bank wanted to close his brother’s account for not maintaining a high enough balance, he says.
A bill before Congress could significantly expand the number of Americans eligible for those aforementioned investment accounts, by expanding access to the accounts based on when a person becomes disabled. Dubbed Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE, the accounts allow people receiving disability income to save for certain qualified expenses without running afoul of the asset cap. At least 14 million people nationwide are currently eligible for ABLE accounts, but less than 1% of eligible Americans use them.
Bankers should pay attention. Just under 13% of Americans live with a disability, and their friends and family make up a meaningful proportion of the population. Addressing the specific financial challenges they must navigate is one way a bank can make a difference for an underserved population that often deals with poverty.
It’s a gap that Purple, still in its early stages, intends to directly address. Ciocca plans to soon launch a checking account and debit card tied to an ABLE account. Its banking products are issued by Wilmington, Delaware-based Bancorp Bank.
“For someone like my brother or anybody else,” Ciocca says, “they’re going to want that independence to spend and be included in society when they go out.”
• Laura Alix, director of research at Bank Director